Should Instructional Designers “Teach to the Test”?

Teach to the Test

There is a lot of angst these days in the education field about “teaching to the test.” It started in K-12 but it’s crept into corporate speak as well. Some say that tests are no longer relevant. They are viewed as hold-overs of an out-of-touch education system. A growing bandwagon of people are saying that they want to help people learn to problem-solve and do critical thinking… and not just memorize facts.

In the corporate world, people really do need to recall facts to do their jobs well. There are plenty of times where being able to “Google it” is not enough: they need to know it if they want to perform their job efficiently and/or safely. In compliance and safety situations, we need some objective verification that they do know it before they are allowed to perform the job. This is needed both to satisfy OSHA regulations and as a way to protect the employee and business.

Case in Point

I sat on a materials review call for a course we are developing within the healthcare industry. This particular scenario asks quite a bit from the learner:

  1. They need to be able to recall the steps to performing a variety of tasks.
  2. They need to select the appropriate tools to do specifics jobs.
  3. They need to be able to correctly put on personal protective equipment (PPE) when entering spaces where high-risk infections are present.
  4. They need to know what protective equipment is required in specific situations, which means they need to recognize different signage located outside patient rooms.

The entire course concludes with a certification test. The test directly links to what this role needs to know…and know how to do. I was concerned to hear a materials reviewer push to add course content that was not going to be part of the test.  This reviewer said, “We need to go beyond teaching to the test.” The implication was that we would fail the learner if we only include content that will be on the test. In essence, we want to give them a smorgasbord of information and heighten their competency by doing so.

What's Wrong with the Test

What’s Wrong With The Test?

We act as if it is shameful if we “only” teach to a test, but why? I suspect many of us believe that we are dumbing things down if we do just focus on a test. Perhaps we are afraid that teaching to a test limits our ability to deliver a rich, meaningful experience that elevates the general abilities of the learner. Too often, we want to turn people into the experts that we are rather than arming them with basic proficiency to do their jobs well.

What’s the risk? If we mix nice-to-know and need-to-know content, learners will likely experience cognitive overload. Worse, we risk them remembering some of the irrelevant information at the expense of the most relevant information.*

What does “Good” Look Like?

A good test should be an accurate assessment of the body of knowledge learners need to know to perform their jobs. If appropriate, it should also assess the skills people have or their decision-making ablity when judgment is a component of executing the job. It should only assess the knowledge and skill required to do the job. Courses that are designed to teach steps, processes, and the “why’s” behind those steps and processes need to keep their focus laser-sharp. People can only remember so much.

If it is essential that workers recall a specific body of knowledge and apply that knowledge to the execution of a set of procedures and processes then, please, don’t include anything that is not essential to them.

The problem is not tests. The problem is bad tests. Bad tests contain irrelevant material. Bad tests are poorly worded. Bad tests are too easy or too hard. Bad tests are not comprehensive, covering all the knowledge and skills critical to a job or situation.

Please do teach to the test… But only if you want to verify that people gained the skill and knowledge you have defined as essential to successful performance of the job.


*- Ruth Clark and Richard Mayer, The Science of Instruction, New Jersey: Pfeiffer, 2011.


The Science of Remembering: Strategies for Long-Term Retention (Free Webinar)


Employees are required to complete a lot of training during the year, so much so that it is simply impossible for them to remember everything that is asked of them. Sharon Boller spoke to these challenges in her recent white paper: “When Remembering Really Matters: Learning Strategies for Long-Term Retention.” The white paper includes strategies for both learning and remembering, emphasizing the need to improve the effectiveness of the initial training event as well as the post-training reinforcement strategy.


VP of Client Relations Leanne Batchelder took these ideas a step further last week at CLN Week West. Her session included expanded case studies of clients where we have applied the science of learning and remembering to achieve tangible business results.

If increasing what employees remember is a priority for you in your role, I encourage you to join Leanne and I for our upcoming webinar, “The Science of Remembering: Proven Techniques for Helping Learners Obtain New Knowledge and Skills.” The webinar is based off of Leanne’s CLN Week West presentation, but also includes some expanded “show and tell” from our custom eLearning projects.

The webinar will be held on Tuesday, June 3rd at 1 pm PDT, 10 am EDT. Click here to register.

Leanne will spotlight two corporate learning case studies that show how incorporating research-based design techniques into your learning solutions will improve knowledge and skill retention, and ultimately drive business outcomes. We’ll take a look at what we did, how we did it, and the results we achieved with a single online learning game for ExactTarget sales reps and a larger, blended curriculum for Roche Diagnostics customers.

What Will You Learn?

4 proven strategies that inhibit forgetting and enhance remembering.

Explanation, examples and research behind specific learning design techniques: spaced learning, distributed practice, repetition, feedback and more.

The real cost of not remembering

ASTD estimates that in 2012, organizations invested $164.2 billion in employee training. How much of your training investment goes to waste?

Ways to incorporate these strategies into a single learning solution or large curriculum

Case studies from our work with Roche Diagnostics and ExactTarget demonstrate how these learning strategies impact business results

How to put it all together

Perhaps most importantly of all, the expanded webinar includes a summary of five business challenges we solved for our clients using a combination of these strategies.

Click here to Register!

What Will Corporate Learners Remember from your Training?

This is an excerpt from Sharon Boller’s newest white paper, When Remembering Really Matters: Learning Strategies for Long-Term Retention. The white paper includes eight strategies to improve learning and remembering. Here is Part 1:


How confident are you that learners really remember what they learn from training delivered in your organization? When a week or a month has passed, how much of what they learned can they recall?

Some of you may respond by replying, “That’s not my priority,” which may be true. Sometimes the goal of training is not about changing learners’ knowledge or skill. Instead the goal is to verify that learners completed the training. Your organization needs to provide organizational proof of compliance or proof that they communicated information. In these instances, you may equate course completion with “ef- fective training.” The question of whether your learners will actually remember the content covered in the training a week or a month afterward is never asked.


moneystackBut what about times when remembering REALLY matters? Organizations typically have business challenges to address and growth goals to reach. Leaders frequently identify training as a required el- ement for meeting these challenges or driving growth, and organizations spend billions of dollars cre- ating and delivering these solutions. ASTD estimates that in 2012 organizations spent approximately 164.2 billion on employee training.

Is that money well spent, or is it wasted? Imagine that you are in charge of designing and imple- menting a learning solution that addresses one of the business problems on the next page. What would your solution look like?*

moneybagEmployee turnover in a pivotal role is over 20%; the goal is 10%

A thorough performance analysis pinpoints lack of skill and experience as one of the drivers of the unac- ceptably high turnover. How much money do you save the company if you can design mem- orable training…and how much do you cost the company if you design training that doesn’t work? (Answer: millions of dollars)

peopleiconA home dialysis equipment manufacturer recognizes revenue growth is stifled by three issues:

1) Patients select home therapy, complete the expensive train- ing for it, but opt out of the home therapy after only a few weeks. 2) The time to train a single patient takes too long. 3) Centers can only train one patient at a time on the therapy, which means only .65 patients per month get trained. They want to reduce the patient drop rate, cap the length of the training at four weeks, and double the number of patients trained in a month’s time. How do you redesign it to produce the required business result?

timeA company wants to roll out a brand new product in a brand new sector.

The sales and support teams are completely unfamiliar with the product offering, and the sector is new to them as well. To make things even more challenging, these teams support products across nine different product lines with new product releases rolling out approxi- mately every two months. How in the world do you get them to remember THIS product? What sales revenue is lost if you cannot produce training that is memorable to members of the sales and support teams?

hospitalHospital labs spend well into six figures to acquire lab equipment your company sells.

Your agreement specifies that you provide them with a customer support specialist until they achieve competency in its use. Each week that your customer support tech spends in a lab is a week the tech isn’t available to assist with a new installation. You don’t want to hire more techs; you want to reduce the time each tech needs to spend with a customer AND you want your customers’ ramp-up time to be reduced. How do you redesign the training to achieve these results? What’s the cost of trainees not remembering here?

phoneSomeone has a heart attack on your corporate campus and passes out.

Because you have a large campus with more than a dozen different buildings, the safety pro- tocol is to dial an internal number to report an emergency rather than calling 911. What’s the cost here if those who witness the emergency do not remember what number to dial for help? This heart attack really happened at one of our client sites, and the individual who witnessed it DID know what to do because she had completed the safety training we created…and re- membered it. Would your employees remember yours? Would your training save a life?

*(NOTE: We successfully dealt with all of these situations.)

Click the image to download the white paper

Click the image to download the white paper

When Remembering Really Matters – New White Paper from Sharon Boller

Sharon Boller, President of Bottom-Line Performance, has authored a new white paper: When Remembering Really Matters: Learning Strategies for Long-Term Retention. It’s full of research, case studies, and advice for learning professionals ready to reduce the amount of information learners forget from all types of training.

Here’s what is covered in the white paper:

What will learners remember?


The question is not asked often enough in most organizations. Research shows us that most of what we learn is forgotten after a learning event, so what can we as learning professionals do to combat this in our designs?

The Cost of Not Remembering


Managers, Directors, and VP’s are painfully aware of what happens when critical training concepts are forgotten. ASTD estimates that in 2012, organizations invested $164.2 billion in employee training. How much of your training investment goes to waste?

Remembering is hard; forgetting is easy

You’ve probably heard of Herman Ebbinghaus’ famous “Forgetting Curve,” based on research done in the late 19th century. While the curve can approach 90% in terms of total information forgotten, more recent research shows that the Forgetting Curve is highly variable. Regardless of the exact percentage, What percentage of what we learn do YOU think is okay to forget?

Four Strategies to Foster Long-Term Retention

Sharon introduces four proven strategies that inhibit forgetting and enhance remembering. You’ll learn more about how to apply these strategies, and the research behind them, in the white paper:

  1. Provide frequent, spaced intervals of learning instead of “glops” or “unrepeated waves.”
  2. Provide multiple repetitions.
  3. Provide immediate feedback for mistakes, and make sure learners get it right before moving forward.
  4. Use stories to drive the learning experience.

All of these strategies are explained in detail within the white paper.

Learning comes before remembering


While the first part of the white paper focuses on remembering, part two is all about the learning. If employees never truly learn new knowledge or skill, they certainly will not remember it. Sharon introduces four strategies for learning that, coupled with the strategies for remembering, will lead to long-term retention.

  1. Balance the use of multimedia.
  2. Limit learner control in the course design.
  3. Personalize the experience as much as possible.
  4. Be ruthless in eliminating content.

Putting it all together

Perhaps most importantly of all, the white paper closes with a summary of five business challenges we solved for our clients using a combination of these strategies for learning and remembering.

Ready to change the way you design and deliver learning? Download the white paper now!

3 Ways Corporate eLearning Projects Go Wrong


The title of this blog post is a bit misleading. Why? There are many ways an eLearning project, or any L&D initiative, can fail to live up to expectations. No matter the cause, one of these “fail states” is usually present when projects miss the mark:

  1. The project took too long.
  2. The client isn’t happy.
  3. The project did not achieve the business or learning outcomes.

Have any of these three been true for you? If so, read on. I interviewed VP of Learning Services Nancy Harkness to learn more about how her team prevents these fail states. Keep in mind that, more often than not, we are developing large curriculums with many eLearning courses rather than a single course.

Three Outcomes With Many Causes

Ending with just one of the outcomes above can spell disaster for an eLearning project. What if the project meets its business objectives… but it took too long and the client is not happy with the process? On the flip side, what if the project went as planned and the client is pleased with the deliverables… only to find learning outcomes are not met?

Nancy cited the following areas as getting in the way of an efficient eLearning design project:

  • Lack of content. Does the source material exist? Did we decide who will create it?
  • Lack of decision-making. How many people will review the course? Be wary not to bring in new decision-makers midway through the project who have a different vision for the design.
  • Lots of re-do’s. This one ties in to the number of decision-makers… and the project’s process. Are there too many cooks in the kitchen?
  • Not having a clear goal. The vendor should always partner with the client to identify a goal before starting the project. Some organizations do not start out with a clear goal of what people need to know or do and their intention is just general awareness of a topic. It’s important to decide which is needed: training or an information push.
  • Waiting to engage the end user. Just because Corporate likes the course does not mean the people who actually take it will like it, or have their needs met. Nancy warns against too much focus on learner likes and dislikes… and says to look at learner needs instead. Sometimes, “You don’t have to like it to learn from it.”
  •  Changing tech requirements midway through a project. This one is self-explanatory. Establish clear requirements from the beginning of the project and stick to them.

What About Moving Targets?

Anyone who has worked in the field of corporate learning long enough knows that avoiding the pitfalls above is easier said than done. Nancy pointed out common situations when it can be next to impossible to avoid things like re-do’s and changing goals. Product launches are a great example: the goal may be to launch the product, but what it takes to get there is evolving every day. Clients often discover that what they thought when they started has changed. It’s important to have a vendor who can manage this change.

And no matter the business need or client, there are a number of ways to make sure every eLearning project is set up for success.

 An eLearning project that’s set up for success has…

  • …a strong client decision-maker.
  • …a clear goal.
  • …a clear deadline.
  • …urgency in the sense of sticking to the deadline.
  • …clear set of actions that learners are supposed to do and content that supports those actions already defined. Make sure the vendor knows where to go.
  • …a client open to new ideas and creativity. Nancy recommends looking at content and asking “What’s really the best way for people to practice or try things out before they get to the real world?”
  • …an end in mind (what you want to achieve)… but not a solution in mind. Clients and vendors must partner to explore the best solution for the job. It might not be a 30 minute eLearning course! If people need to reference a critical piece, then a five minute course with a reference guide may be the right solution.

Above all, successful eLearning projects have mutually clear expectations for everyone involved. The vendor understands exactly what the client needs… and the number of review cycles and client decision-makers are clearly defined. Establishing these expectations also establishes trust… which keeps the team solutions-focused if and when something does go wrong.

The Link Between New Tools and Corporate Training

link between tools and training

Management and C-level folks love to find find new tools that will make their teams more productive. It’s exciting to find a new app, Software as a Service (SaaS) or social network that will increase efficiency or solve a perceived performance problem. That excitement tends to fade when the new tool is introduced to a team… and no one wants to use it.

You can give people the most revolutionary tool ever… but if you don’t train them on it, and show them what’s in it for them, you will not maximize use of the tool. And in the worst of scenarios, the tool will be snickered at and quickly forgotten, added to the pile of “management whims” that never made it into practice.

What’s In It For Me?

I recently read a Businessweek article discussing how the “Millenial” generation (of which I am a member) refuses to comply with corporate travel policies. Instead of using the company-sponsored hub for booking flights, cars and hotels, these pesky Millenials are using sites like and to book cheaper flights at more convenient times. In response, American Express has gamified their travel dashboard with points, badges and leaderboards to make the process of booking corporate travel more like a game. The jury is out on whether this new approach will increase compliance with corporate travel policies.

More interesting than the article itself were the comments, where a lively discussion had emerged surrounding the ethics of using a corporate-sponsored travel hub for the sake of consistency and liability versus booking travel independently for added convenience and potentially decreased costs. Most of the comments, on both sides of the issue, were not made by Millenials, but by Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers. It seems lots of people hate their corporate travel policy, finding that it gets in the way of them doing their jobs.

A corporate travel policy is a tool employees are expected to use. And for most of them, it sounds like this tool is not meeting their needs.

Demonstrate the Value of Every Tool

We will be the first to proclaim the benefits of game-based learning and gamification. Many of our solutions include these approaches, and they are proven to increase motivation in learners. But it is even more important to demonstrate the value of a tool to your employees. Show them how the tool benefits them, and how it benefits the company. Does it save them time? Save the company money? Is it easy to use? Do they know how to use all of the features?

Providing adequate training and support for a company tool is important… and that training will include a “what’s in it for me?” value proposition when properly designed. When you conduct a Needs Analysis to determine what type of training is needed, you might find that the tool itself is outdated or missing some key features. Then, the problem becomes less about the need for training, or the attitude of your learners, and more about a need to find a better tool.

Case in point

Training for new toolsOne of our Fortune 500 clients was interested in improving its instructor-led training sessions. In a capabilities presentation, we introduced them to Nearpod, a tool for delivering interactive lectures using the iPad. We conducted train the trainer sessions with their facilitators to show them the tool, demonstrate how it will make their jobs easier and their presentations better, and give them some best practices.

Since Nearpod would be new to the facilitators’ work flows, we knew we had to provide informative training to frame the experience and get them motivated to dive in. Without this training, it would be much harder to introduce a new tool and expect facilitators to start using it right away.

Link Tools and Training

Take the time to properly introduce your organization’s tools to employees. Show them the value it will add for them, and explain how it adds value to the company. Let them practice using the tool and give them ideas for getting started.

…And if none of that works, it might be time to try a new tool.

Training Needs Analysis Worksheet (Free Download)

Training Needs Analysis Worksheet banner

A soundly conducted Needs Analysis should always be the first step when you need to improve performance or change behaviors. Regardless of the type of learning solution you plan to create, taking the time to properly assess the situation and gather appropriate information will go a long way towards assuring the success of a new project.

Below, you will find a five step process for conducting a Training Needs Analysis. When we help organizations with their analysis, we recommend they follow these steps, or a similar variation. To help you through these five steps, we have created a 10-question Needs Analysis Worksheet you can fill out and use as a starting point for new project. You may fill out the form below and download it for free.

And now, the five steps of a standard Training Needs Analysis.

1. Receive Training Request

Whether you receive a formal request for training or a more vague indication that there is a problem you are expected to solve, now is the time to start gathering some basic information. In this step, you will formulate an initial instructional goal (which can be revised later) and clarify your target audience… including their characteristics, background, and current skills. You will also decide if the training can be developed internally, or if you will need an external vendor.

2. Formulate a plan

Chances are you will have quite a bit of content to gather and organize. You’ll also need a plan for refining your instructional goal to make sure it aligns with business objectives. Step 2 is all about figuring out what information to gather, who to get it from, and how to get it. Zero in on your instructional goal, profile your learners, and carefully identify the skills or behaviors you want to impact.

3. Gather the data

In Step 3, it’s time to collect data and refine your plan based on data that emerges. You’ll be collecting data using methods such as stakeholder interviews, locating source content, focus groups, and task analysis.

Interviews, focus groups, and locating source content are all fairly straightforward tasks, but you may or not already be familiar with the task analysis technique. This involves isolating an individual task and identifying the current results, the desired standard, level of importance, frequency of the task, and more. Quite honestly, we could give a full workshop on just the task analysis step alone. For a more in-depth explanation, get in touch with us.

4. Analyze data and conclude the process

Once you’ve gathered all the necessary data, it’s time to analyze the information gathered and formulate findings and recommendations. You should revise your instructional goal based on the data you’ve gathered. You should now have new insights on your learners that will affect the content of the solution, the delivery format, and other constraints.

By the end of this step, you should clearly know what the optimal training solution is… and why. You’ll also know whether you can complete the training internally, or if you need to bring in an outside vendor.

5. Plan next steps

Your final step in the Needs Analysis will be a comprehensive report, which will serve as the road map for your solution design. This report will include the final instructional goal, profile of the target audience, learning objectives, and a summary of the tasks or ideas being taught. You’ll also lay out the constraints to consider in your design… and the potential delivery method. With all five steps of the Needs Analysis process completed, you should be well on your way to developing an effective learning solution.


We have a created a simple, 10-question worksheet to help you kickstart your Training Needs Analysis. Use it to ask the right questions, zero in on the “need to have” information, and make a sound plan for identifying the right learning solution.

Is “Rapid” eLearning Design and Development Possible?

Traditional eLearning may be on its way out, but it is still with us today. In fact, some companies still rely on it heavily. It’s our job to look to the future, while also catering to present needs.

In today’s lean times, there is lots of buzz and interest around “rapid” elearning design and development. But what, exactly, is “rapid?”

In a 2008 post by Tom Kuhlman, author of the Rapid e-Learning Blog (one of my favorite blogs), it’s 40 hours. Here’s what he has to say (on another topic actually – professional narration):

Rapid elearning development has a 33:1 ratio in development time.  For every finished hour, you’re probably spending about 33 hours of work in labor.  I’m just going to keep it simple and say that it takes you a week to do a project.  That’s 40 hours.  At $100* per hour, the company is spending about $4000 per project.  That’s just for your labor.

Hmmm…I am amazed by that number. I suppose it could be true if you already had your learning objectives, course design, and content defined and were at the point of programming it into your authoring tool. I wonder if it’s true when you have to convene a team of SMEs, discuss what the course is supposed to accomplish, define a look/feel for the course, write the content, and then program it. Here’s what makes or breaks rapid for us – and rapid is not 40:1:

  • The client project manager. If you have someone who understands work plans and scope, then you will move fast. If you have a PM who allows subject matter experts to add screens, content, animations, etc. to the course, things will not be rapid.
  • Content. If it exists and is stable, then we can move quickly. If it has to be gathered from people’s heads…and people have multiple opinions about the content, things will not be rapid.
  • Limiting screen templates. If we agree at the design stage how many unique screens will be created – and stick with it (i.e. 8 or 10 different screen layouts), then we can import content quickly. If the customer – or the instructional designer – keeps wanting changes and different screen layouts, things will not be rapid.
  • Realization of what a 30-minute course really means in terms of the amount of content to develop. If the client and instructional designer  understands that 30 minutes is probably somewhere between 17-30 screens (depending on the # of pop-ups, animations, or video files embedded within a screen), then we’re good. If the designer creates a design that requires 40-50 screens, a bazillion popups, or tons of audio, sthen we will not be rapid.
  • SMEs. Quite frankly, the more you have the less rapid things will be. Wherever possible, one SME per course is optimal. Get 5 SMEs involved, and you will have 5 opinions to consider and 5 schedules to work around. This is one of the BIGGEST reasons rapid doesn’t happen more often.
  • Review cycles. If we can go from design to alpha with no script reviews, then we can be very rapid. If the client wants three review cycles on scripts/storyboards before we move into programming, we are in trouble in terms of rapid.

I might hit Tom’s # of 40 hours if I get to be the SME, the project manager, the instructonal designer, the writer, and the multimedia developer all in one and I have all the content at my fingertips with no creation of it required. The reality is that on a complex project, this is seldom the case.  I contend it’s also a lot harder to be “rapid” when you are truly trying to teach someone to do something as opposed to merely sharing information with them. So…what strategies have others evolved to achieve “rapid” AND how do you define “rapid?”

#BIN2012: 5 Reasons Your eLearning Content Needs Better Visuals

Instructional designers are often first and foremost writers. They are creative, verbose, and effective with language. This is both a strength and a crutch. We say we want to be clear and concise, but it’s true most of us are still secretly turning that unwritten novel over in our heads…

Portraits of Simón de la Valle and María del Carmen Cortés y Cartavio

Portraits of Simón de la Valle and María del Carmen Cortés y Cartavio, courtesy of Denver Art Museum. How many writers still kind of see themselves as "this guy?"

We love to tell stories, and the written word is an oh-so-tempting way to do it. It’s succinct. It’s effective. And most importantly, it’s in our comfort zone.

Your audience is not concerned with your personal preferences and communication styles. Their attention is fragmented and their expectations are high. You can’t expect to write a pretty sentence or paragraph and get your point across. Not when we are surrounded with ever louder, more vibrant media. But this doesn’t mean you need to rush to iStock and find the first picture of a multi-cultural office worker you can find and throw it in your course. Not at all! The writing still comes first.

Your eLearning visuals should be more engaging than this.

Your eLearning visuals should be more engaging than this.

If you are a Facebook user, a quick glance down your news feed is all you need to see what the type of content we share is changing. Pictures, Memes and infographics dominate the screen, and Facebook has only encouraged this trend with the introduction of Facebook timeline and user interface changes.

This has a major impact on all of us in the world of communications, from learning designer to marketer. I had the pleasure of attending my first Blog Indiana conference last week, a gathering of bloggers, social media pros, and marketers in Indianapolis. Our opening keynote was by Roundpeg’s Communications Director Allison Carter. Her presentation, “A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Clicks: Creating a Visual Content Strategy,” was the inspiration for this post.

Blog Indiana 2012 was held August 9th-10th in Indianapolis

Allison is a marketing and PR expert in Indianapolis, and a prolific writer and blogger. I learned plenty from her and the other #BIN2012 presenters about marketing and social media, but what Allison shared offers plenty of lessons for the world of learning design, as well. Even when our purpose and intent is different, we are all still writers.

In 2012 and beyond, a “writer” is called to be more than master of the written word. The best writer knows when words fail and an image succeeds. Content is a broader term than ever before, including images, video, interactive elements, and yes…good old fashioned words and punctuation.

So whether you are writing to instruct or to sell products, visual content matters. But don’t take my word for it…

5 Takeaways from Allison’s Presentation:

  1. Words and pictures are not in opposition. Images color (no pun intended) our expectations: At the start of her presentation, Allison admitted to heavily favoring the writing side of things. She has made a conscious effort to collaborate early and often with Roundpeg’s design team to unite her words with images and layout elements. Whether you are solely a writer or a writer/designer combo, be prepared to combine both mediums early and often.
  2. Images fix a single moment in time: Which has more impact – a paragraph describing a violent conflict or a candid image of the scene? Images can rouse more emotions in less time, and it is our emotions that motivate our actions. Words are more effective on an intellectual level.
  3. Your business is visual. Even parts that aren’t that pretty are still visual: No matter what your industry may be, there is a way to communicate it visually. A large-scale manufacturing plant could include candid images of real, happy workers following safety regulations as part of its training. Even a traditional office full of cubicles has something visually interesting to show.
  4. Show benefit of the product, not the product itself: If the concept you are trying to convey is more intangible or abstract, images can allow you to show the benefit or result. How do people feel and behave when a process is successfully followed?
  5. Things don’t need to be slick and perfect anymore. Those days are gone. Get out of your own way: The quality of images you use is important, but Hollywood production values are not always necessary. Don’t let the need for visual perfection get in the way of including interesting visual content.

While Allison’s presentation focused around marketing and blogging, these core principles are just as important for effective learning design. Your eLearning visuals need to stand out from the crowd. It requires some extra effort to stop and consider effective visuals when we are trying to rapidly produce content, but a few well-placed images can go a long way.

Managing Subject Matter Experts and Using Them as Learning Developers

I have a colleague who once created a presentation called “Herding Cats: Working with SMEs.” Needless to say, her viewpoint on the value of SMEs was influenced by some negative experiences.

Cats have often been used to describe SMEs - independent and impossible to control...but still lovable.

Cats have often been used to describe SMEs - independent and impossible to control...but still lovable.

Can subject matter experts (aka SMEs) make good developers? How do you manage them and keep them focused? Can you shift them from a content (input) focus to an outcome focus? How do you keep them from derailing your project by overloading you with content? If a SME doesn’t know anything about instructional design, how can you involve them in designing a learning solution? What about deadlines…how do you hold them accountable?

In our experience, which spans a lot of years, subject matter experts are critical to most of our projects’ successes. Conversely, they can also become the Achilles’ heel that hinders success or makes a project take far longer than it should to complete. How to you ensure the former scenario and prevent the latter one?

That’s what our February blog posts are about. Over the next four weeks, we’ll share our tips and tricks for maximizing the relationship with SMEs. Specifically, we plan to talk about:

  • Managing expectations between the SME and the designer/developers and techniques for clarifying roles/responsibilities.
  • Tools that can make it easier for SMEs to function as developers – and designers.
  • Techniques that make it easier to hold SMEs accountable for delivering what they say they will deliver.
  • How to speak the language of the SME rather than trying to teach the language of learning design to the SME.

We welcome your thoughts and ideas as well. If you’ve identified a great strategy or technique for partnering with SMEs, share it! If you have a question or a challenge, let us know that too and we’ll try to address it here.

Also look for a couple interesting interviews with SMEs. While we view them in a particular light, it’s always good to view the world from their stance as well.